COLUMBIA — Former Lebanon football standout and heavy weight wrestling champion Justin Britt still remembers the drill that sent him from tight end to offensive line and changed the course of his football career forever.
Britt was beat out for the tight end position by Jake O’Quinn during a pass catching drill and moved to the offensive line.
“Me and Jake (O’Quinn) were in a competition and whoever caught the most passes would stay at tight end,” Britt said. “They purposefully threw me bad balls — I’ll say that until I die ... they obviously knew what they were doing, moving me to offensive line.
“Without them doing that and without their coaching I wouldn’t have ended up here (at Mizzou).”
Britt was hardly on the radar of major college programs prior to his senior year at Lebanon. He weighed just 230 pounds as a junior, hardly what major college football programs are looking for, and was coming off a knee injury that forced him out of the Lebanon lineup for several games.
But Britt was offered a scholarship by the Tigers during Lebanon’s trip to Mizzou Team Camp, something Britt says he’ll never forget. The offer came after the Lebanon coaching staff decided to take a step up from the Missouri State team camp the ‘Jackets had attended in the past to Columbia, where the competition was a little tougher, but the lights were brighter.
Lebanon head coach Will Christian introduced Britt to former Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen, now the head coach at Wyoming, early in the camp and said from there the MU coaching staff followed whereever Lebanon went.
“You could tell it was like the guy at prom meeting the beautiful girl,” Christian said. “They were just in awe of him and everyplace we went to do our drills, there would be one or two golf carts with a Mizzou coach in it checking him out.
“As the weekend went on, he performed well and we had success and they offered him.”
NCAA rules prohibit coaches from making a scholarship offer at the camp itself, but it wasn’t long afterwards that the Tigers made Britt an offer and he made a verbal commitment.
Whirlwind senior season
Britt has become a star on the Tigers’ offensive line and has competed against the likes of South Carolina All-America Jadeveon Clowney and others in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), the garden that grows the defensive linemen for the NFL to harvest.
Britt, 6-foot-6 and weighing in at 315, entered the 2013 season as the Tigers most experienced offensive lineman with 22 starts under his belt and was named a preseason All-SEC third team selection.
He was named the Week 10 SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week on Nov. 4 after helping the Tigers gain 502 yards of total offense in a 31-3 win over Tennessee.
One year after moving to the vaunted SEC, the Missouri Tigers enter Saturday’s Senior Day as the No. 5 ranked team in the nation and are 10-1 overall, and 6-1 in the SEC. Missouri will host Texas A&M and Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel. A win would give the Tigers the East title and a ticket to face Alabama in the championship game.
Saturday’s game is set for 6:45 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN.
For Britt, the season has come on the heels of a disapointing junior campaign in which he suffered a season-ending knee injury while making a tackle during a contest against Florida.
“This year has been the best year I could ever have for my senior year,” Britt said. “With everything that has happened, I wouldn’t ask for anything else. My senior year is coming to a close, but I think it is one hell of a way for a senior to go out.
“The only way that it could be any better is for us to be undefeated.”
Missouri’s only loss came in double overtime to South Carolina (27-24), but the Tigers have since won three straight, setting up Saturday’s contest against Texas A&M for the right to play in the SEC championship game.
“That loss (to South Carolina) was probably good for us,” Britt said. “It woke us up, and who knows if we would be undefeated right now if we had won that game, no one knows.
“It kind of makes this last regular season game even more exciting than it would have been.”
Britt didn’t mince words about the Tigers chances Saturday against Texas A&M.
“We’ll win this Saturday and the rest is history,” Britt said.
Playing for something bigger than himself
Britt says his goals haven’t changed much, he has always dreamed of playing in the NFL, but the reasons for doing so have changed.
Two weeks after he had successful knee surgery, his fiancee, Alicia Bratten, gave birth to Navy Noelle Britt on Dec. 4, 2013, something Britt said has changed his life forever.
“I had a lot going on in my life at that point, but I kind of took it as a blessing in disguise for it to happen at that time,” Britt said. “It has made me mature and grow up in the past year as much as I’ve ever been in my first 21 years of life.
“Instead of going out with friends I’m at home taking care of my body, and my daughter and my fiancee,” Britt said. “My goal has always been going to the pros and making a career out of football. That hasn’t changed, the only thing that has changed is who I am doing it for.”
Britt graduated from Mizzou in December of 2012 and is enrolled in a sports psychology masters program, taking online courses. He said a wedding date is to be determined.
“Whenever we got engaged we both agreed to wait and see what happens in May in the draft and everything,” Britt said. “It is hard to plan something when you don’t know what income you’ll have or where you’ll be.”
Britt said picking an agent, where he will train and preparing for the NFL combine and other events will be a high priority.
Britt said taking care of his body wasn’t a high priority until the past year. But with the NFL draft ahead, he has been focused throughout his senior season.
“I’m the type of guy who could go to McDonald’s and eat 12 cheeseburgers and still have 20 percent body fat,” Britt said. “(Bratten) has helped me eat right, going grocery shopping and buying the right foods.”
Always a premium position, there were 22 offensive tackles drafted last season. But Britt’s stock could get a boost from an invite to the Senior Bowl, an opportunity to play in the SEC championship game in front of a big audience, and the NFL combine.
Britt could be a hot commodity due to his ability to play all over the offensive line. Britt has played every position at one time or another during his career at Mizzou.
Draftinsider.net listed Britt among seven risers in its Nov. 7 report and said Britt “came into the season with a late round grade from scouts but has since elevated his game.”
Christian said the NFL Draft Combine is an event built for a player of Britt’s abilities where measurables are evaluated. Britt has a lean build with 20 percent body fat, and tests such as the 40-yard-dash or vertical jump will likely boost his stock even more.
Christian said already he has received letters from the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs seeking background information about Britt.
“I’m thinking this is some sort of propaganda and maybe a coaches clinic or something like that and I open them up and it’s a player (evaluation) on Justin,” Christian said. “That was a really cool situation and was the point and time that it really hit me that perhaps this is a real deal.
“With the success that he is having this season at the SEC level, it is a real thing. I would be very surprised is he doesn’t get drafted somewhere and that would be huge for Lebanon.”